This led her to study fentanyl-induced amnesia, which was documented in a 2018 report in the New England Journal of Medicine and observed in a group of patients in Massachusetts. In some people, fentanyl kills nerve cells in the hippocampus — an area of the brain already vulnerable to hypoxia damage that occurs with overdose — by causing the cells to fire uncontrollably.
Because the syndrome was so rare, she encountered some doctors who suspected a link between fentanyl and amnesia. The book follows how others such as Jed Barash, medical director of the Army’s Home in Chelsea, Massachusetts, have persistently pursued answers, ultimately confirming how opioids can harm the hippocampus.
“These Alzheimer’s researchers and neuroscientists are heroes. We owe them a debt of gratitude, because I think in the end there will be, if not cures, at least treatments,” she said.
Currently working on a book of medical fiction, Aguirre credits MIT for her willingness to take those leaps. “Just being able to exist there gave me the confidence to believe that eventually, if you work hard enough, you will figure things out,” she said.